Q: My boyfriend and I are both avid readers. He decided to read a new book, which I have already read. When he pulled out his book, I said, "That book is wild! I think you are going to like it."
He got upset that I ruined his chance at having an unadulterated first impression while reading it. I replied, "I’m sorry you feel that way, but I really didn’t mean to ruin anything, and I don’t think I did ruin anything — this author has a wild writing style." This, in his eyes, was a non-apology, which I admitted it was.
It led us to a conversation about how beholden the offender ought to be to apologize when they think there has been an overreaction. I know overreaction is in the eye of the beholder, but even my boyfriend admitted his reaction was a bit much.
If someone overreacts, can the offender let them know they think that? Or does it just totally depend on the situation?
A: If anything, it’s the opposite — it totally depends on the aggregate.
When you take each situation individually, there’s always a way to spin it into one person’s overreaction, or, from the other side, one person’s dismissiveness of the other’s feelings. Especially when both of you think you’re right, it can be hard to tell who actually is — and in that little gap of doubt is where so many abusers or potential abusers plant seeds of self-doubt.
When you take situations as a group, though, you get a remarkably clear picture of overreactions and how to respond to them.
Let’s say an avid-reader friend has one overreaction to one generic comment on one book in one situation. In that case, the apt response forms itself. "[pause, raise eyebrows] "You OK?"
If a friend overreacts on a fairly regular but also unpredictable basis, rooted in an expectation of mind-reading believed to be legitimate and justified, then it’s time to form a different response:
Know manipulation when you see it, get out as soon as you can.